Barack Obama came to town a year ago to change the way politics worked, and Organizing for America was to be his instrument. The successor to his campaign organization, with the largest e-mail list in America, was poised — many observers thought at the time — to bring the campaign’s movement fervor and Web-centric tactics to pushing Obama’s legislative agenda through Congress.
But Organizing for America hasn’t organized much of anything (certainly not as much as those amateur tea party protesters have). Popular support for Obama’s agenda is at an all-time low. ObamaCare is unpopular. And Democrats lost gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. Just as Obama is confessing that he really failed to change the way Washington works, the group’s leader insists that, no, they really have:
Executive Director Mitch Stewart also said the organization’s broader effects have been understated. Obama “talked about changing the way that Washington works. We believe that we’ve done that,” Stewart said in the interview with POLITICO. “Is it ‘snap your fingers and you’re living in utopia’? No. But do we feel like we’ve made significant progress toward changing the way that Washington works? Yes.”
Well, that’s only one indication that Organizing for America is a bit out to lunch — and out of the loop. So what’s wrong with the greatest campaign organization ever (or so we were told)? A few things, I think.
First, campaigning — to sell an unknown candidate running in a “historic” race against an unpopular incumbent party — isn’t that hard. (And it helps when Steve Schmidt is running the opposition team.) That’s fundamentally different from sustaining political support over a prolonged period of time for an agenda that the candidate carefully concealed from view as he was convincing voters he was something altogether different. Second, many of the people whom Obama claimed credit for enticing into voting were only interested long enough to put a sticker on their Prius and go to the polls once. They didn’t flock to the polls in the 2009 gubernatorial races and it’s doubtful that they’ll man the barricades for the likes of Harry Reid, Blanche Lincoln, or any of the other vulnerable Democrats. And finally, Obama is the “establishment” now. Spinning for the administration and running interference for the Obami just isn’t as much fun and doesn’t have the same appeal as chanting in Iowa, partying in Denver, and swooning over The One in Berlin. Besides, the “selling” of Obama’s agenda is really the White House’s job. It’s hard to outsource that to a campaign remnant.
The fate of Organizing for America is not unlike that of its candidate. Both, like the dog that caught the bus it was chasing, don’t quite know what to do with their new possession. And the heady days of the campaign when everyone swooned in the presence of the candidate they knew so little about aren’t to be repeated. Perhaps it’s time that Organizing for America closed up shop. There is a time to put the campaign behind and get on with life.